Gunning for a grand slam homer, Saturn hits a double The striking Sky Red Line gets functional brake vents up front. By Jason Kavanagh Date posted: 09-01-2006 260-hp direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder - Twin-scroll turbocharger and front-mount intercooler - Firmer suspension doesn't rattle your kidneys "What kind of car is that?" "It's a Saturn." "A what?" This exchange entailing a fellow motorist's disbelief occurred while driving — more like parking — a face-melting yellow 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line in Monterey, California, freeway rush-hour traffic. That's exactly the sort of double-take Saturn is hoping it will elicit, and we can visualize Saturn's product planners right now, muttering their best Mr. Burns impersonation: "Excellent!" Earlier this year, the car voted Least Likely To Be a Saturn, the Sky roadster, arrived with the swirly red Saturn badge on its nose. Mechanical twin to Pontiac's Solstice, the two-seat Sky is intended as a halo car, forcing people to rethink their existing perceptions of the brand. No sooner did Saturn open the production faucet to pour Sky roadsters on the road than did they toss us the keys to a Sky Red Line, the 260-horsepower hot-rod version of the little two-seater. Scheduled for a fall release, the Sky Red Line is the halo's halo, then. So, what's it like? Prior to baking in the unrelenting midafternoon summer sun on the 101 freeway, we blasted the Sky Red Line over the contorted roads of rural Monterey for about 100 miles. Here's what we learned. Blurred lines Saturn reckons the 2,933-pound Red Line will do zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and click off a 13.9-second quarter-mile at 100 mph. Largely similar to the base Sky roadster, the Red Line edition is given a high-performance treatment consisting of engine and suspension upgrades. Whereas the base Sky has slightly softer suspension tuning than the Solstice, both suspension and engine tuning are identical in Sky Red Line and Solstice GXP models. The Red Line rides on the same 18-inch wheels that are found on the Sky, but scuttles that car's all-season tires for stickier Goodyear Eagle F1s. GM fortified the Ecotec DOHC four-cylinder for the rear-wheel-drive Sky Red Line and Solstice GXP with direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger, pressurizing the intact tract with air chilled by a front-mount air-to-air intercooler. This marks GM's first gasoline direct-injection engine in North America, with future engines to follow in its path. For a car with the words "Red Line" in its name, you might be scratching your head at the engine's curiously low 6300-rpm fuel cutoff. We could have sworn there was a constitutional amendment approved in 1989 requiring that all 2.0-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engines must have at least a 7000-rpm redline. Despite a lack of revs, the Red Line's 2.0-liter turbo motor still musters a stout 260 hp, and its peak torque of 260 pound-feet is on tap from 2500-5200 rpm. Boost peaks around 18 psi, and power builds progressively without obvious lag and with useful off-boost torque, thanks to a relatively high 9.2:1 compression ratio and variable valve timing on both cams. Saturn reckons the 2,933-pound Red Line will do zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and click off a 13.9-second quarter-mile at 100 mph. Our butt dyno reckons that's pretty close. Seeing red Dual exhaust tips betray a Sky's Red Line status if you're not driving close enough to spot the "turbo" badge on the rump. Although the engine's boost response and linear full-throttle thrust are also praiseworthy, but the power delivery can be puzzlingly stodgy. Like the normally aspirated Sky, the Sky Red Line suffers from a slightly sticky gearchange and enough drivetrain inertia for it to feel like the car's flywheel is the size of a manhole cover. We're not certain if this flywheel effect is truly caused by the flywheel itself or if it's a by-product of the drive-by-wire throttle's calibration. Either way, the latter is an area we are certain needs help. With pedal travel that's too long, sluggish rev-matching and throttle response that could be timed with a calendar, the engineer who did the throttle mapping on this engine should have his Society of Automotive Engineers membership revoked. The balance-shafted engine is smooth, though, and turbo noises are kept at bay, with a muted bypass valve chuff accompanying the mildly truckish engine note. We encountered a few oddities during our drive, including an occasional sharp whistle — similar to brake pad squeal — induced on throttle-lift, and the distinct aroma of coolant following moderately hard charges. Quirks of this nature are expected on a preproduction car, but we were assured that our Sky Red Line was a fully production-representative example. An engine with the kind of mustard this turbo motor packs deserves better integration. Turning red Here's what your additional $3,700 gets you over a base Sky: a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with direct injection. It's good for 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Learning of the Red Line's uprated springs, shocks, bushings and stabilizer bars, we were half expecting a stiff ride. Not to worry. The thing soaks up serious road imperfections without losing composure and remains compliant, thanks to the excellent Bilstein monotube dampers and Sol/Sky's bedrock-stiff Kappa chassis. Body roll is well-snubbed and ultimate grip — 0.90g, says Saturn — is suitably lofty; a 3.73:1 limited-slip diff comes standard. With all this chassis goodness, the languid turn-in from the Sky's inert, too-slow steering is that much more of a letdown. This reluctance of the drivetrain and steering to cooperate turns spirited driving into an exercise in frustration. Even with traction control switched off and all that newfound torque, throttle steering remains at arm's reach. By the time the power hits the chassis, you've already understeered wide of the apex, or are well into unwinding the wheel. Ultimately, the Sky Red Line refuses to fully involve or reward the driver and is happiest when driven at six-tenths. The silver lining to the clouds in the Sky is that they should be pretty easy for GM to fix. Indeed, someone at GM must be listening, since the Red Line's shortened 3rd gear will be added to all Sol/Skys to close the gearing gap between 2nd and 3rd, an issue we noted in our Sky First Drive. Harvester of eyes The Sky's chassis handles the Red Line's additional power with ease, but it's still lacking in driver involvement. At least it looks good. By far the most successful feature of the Sky remains its styling, the Red Line adding dual exhaust tips and functional brake cooling vents in the nose. Some of the Red Line-specific detailing is unnecessarily fussy and risks cluttering a good thing, but the proportions are still great and the level of aggression is spot-on. Inside, the Red Line is largely similar to the Sky, with the same dearth of storage space and distracting chrome and glossy black accents. When the sun is out and the top dropped, the bling makes you blind. GM isn't alone here. Mazda added gloss black surfaces to the current MX-5, although their silvery brightwork has a retina-friendly matte finish. Rather than the scalpel it could have been, the Sky Red Line remains the blunt, somewhat distant car the base Sky is, just with an extra dose of power. Nevertheless, we expect that most Red Line customers will overlook the car's dynamic shortcomings and be tempted by the curb appeal and speed that can be had in exchange for its $27,895 base price. Maybe traffic isn't such a bad thing after all.